The whole is other than the sum of the parts

More than human cover

Richard Powers, at the height of his powers, brings the surreal.

On a pleasantly brisk Spring evening, the Beamers came together to examine the coming together of a science fiction classic, More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon.  Built around his story, “Baby is Three”, it tells of how the next step in human evolution is built around a melding of different, somewhat damaged, individuals into a new, unified identity, Homo Gestalt.  Would the Beamers unite around a single opinion on the book?  Or would we find it too damaged to believe? Continue reading

How can you keep them on the farm?

Inheritance cover

Eating crow is tough enough when they are not acid-based life-forms.

With weather not conducive to raising crops, the Beamers met to discuss Leah Bobet’s novel about life on the farm after the Big Bad has been beaten, An Inheritance of Ashes.  Caught up in the family drama of the Hoffmann sisters and their struggles with missing husband, mysterious stranger, and recurring incursions of little monsters, the Beamers were able to forget the outside chills and concentrate on what really matters: is it science fiction or fantasy?  Continue reading

Snow dwarf and the seven worlds

The biggest news in planetary exploration came out in February when astronomers announced that the TRAPPIST-1 system contained 7 terrestrial (Earth-sized) planets in orbit around their ultra-cool dwarf star, a little less than 40 light-years from Terra Firma.

Named for the telescope that discovered the first 3 worlds in 2015 (the TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetIsmals Small Telescope) operated by the University of Liege, Belgium, the system ultimately owes its name to another Belgian source of pride, the strong ales brewed by Trappist monks, some of which was used in celebration over the discovery.

Seven big maybe-blue marbles, rolling around a tiny sun the size of Jupiter.  Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA has an interest as well, with the Spitzer Space Telescope providing the evidence for the latest 4 TRAPPIST planets.  In recognition, the Exoplanet Travel Bureau has prepared a tourist poster to get people excited about a visit to TRAPPIST-1.  And a short visit can still last “years”. With orbits ranging from 1.5 to 18.5 days, the years really fly by in the TRAPPIST system.

Island-hopping in Hawai’i, or planet-hopping in TRAPPIST-1. Decisions, decisions! Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Great god, Pan!

NASA’s Cassini probe, enjoying its last few orbits of Saturn, has been deployed to intercept many of the ringed planet’s orbital features at close range.  On March 7, it came close to the “shepherd” moon, Pan, and revealed its unusual shape.

Some saucers do fly in outer space. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Pan has a large bulge (technically, an equatorial accretion disk) from the ring particles that it “sweeps up” in its orbit, removing enough material to make a distinctive opening in the bright A ring, called Enke’s Gap (or, earlier, Division).  Named in honor of astronomer Johann Enke, who did not actually observe it, it was theorized by the 1980s to be home to a moonlet that was gravitationally knocking out ring particles, a theory that was confirmed in 1990 through study of Voyager 2’s 1981 photos of the ring.

Though tiny in the photo, the Enke Gap is 330 km. (200 mi.) across. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

But none of the original discovery team, looking at Voyager’s “dot”, would have guessed that the moonlet was a space-based ravioli.

Take a lot of sauce to coat this “saucer”.

Growing oceans in the shadow of the magnetic balloon

Matt Williams on the Universal Science website has reported that a NASA study of terraforming Mars presented at the Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop suggests that a major factor in restoring an atmosphere and, eventually, oceans, could be an inflatable, magnetic-field generating structure placed at the Lagrange L1 point, gravitationally balanced on the line between Mars and the Sun.

It may be full of hot air, but it is a serious proposal to get us to walk around on Mars.

It may be full of hot air, but it is a serious proposal to get us to walk around on Mars.

By deflecting the Solar wind and Solar radiation, the magnetic dipole shield would stop the stripping away of the Martian atmosphere, which is replenished by volcanic outgassing.  In consequence, the atmosphere would thicken and trigger a warming of the planet, possibly as much as 4 degrees C. (~7 degrees F.).  That round of warming could be enough to melt the frozen carbon dioxide at the northern Martian pole, further warming Mars and leading to melting of the polar water ice.  As much as 1/7th of Mars’s original oceans may thus return.

A shielded, warmed Mars with a thickened atmosphere and free-standing water would be much easier for humans to explore and, eventually, to take up residence.  And the entire process may be accomplished in a matter of decades, putting in range of the lifetimes of many of us.

The full presentation, given by Jim Green, Director of the workshop sponsor, NASA’s Planetary Science Division, is available on-line: A Future Mars Environment for Science and Exploration.


Pass the dice and the channel changer!

Damn, I needed that "Get Off Eros for Free" card!

Damn, I needed that “Get Off Eros for Free” card!  Photo: Syfy Channel

Ty Franck and Dan Abraham’s popular space opera series, The Expanse, is about to come full circle, from game to book to TV show, and now back to game.  In a well-detailed interview with the authors, Andrew Liptak, writing on the Barnes & Noble blog site, tells of how Ty Franck, a successful entrepreneur, was inspired by Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, to dream of a mid-future Solar System with various planetary factions being infiltrated by an alien virus.  Played as an on-line role-playing game, Franck’s scenario featured the crew of a water hauler, the Rocinante, getting pulled into the intrigue and the conflicts.

Meanwhile, when Franck’s wife enrolled at the University of New Mexico, he joined a local writer’s group, Critical Mass, and began running a role-playing game for some of its members, including George R.R. Martin.  Martin’s assistant, Dan Abraham, was also interested and joined Franck’s space opera game as down-and-out detective named Miller.  No wonder that Abraham wrote the Miller chapters when they decided to collaborate on a novel set in The Expanse universe.

And the TV show stayed faithful to Franck’s original game vision.  On a visit to the set, two of the original players remarked that the spaceship and colonized asteroid interiors looked almost exactly as they imagined the rooms and spaces to look when they were playing Franck’s game almost 10 years earlier.

Now, Beth Elderkin on io9 reports that WizKids, best known for their collectible superhero miniatures games HeroClix, is preparing to create a 2-4 player card-driven strategy game where players vie for domination of the Solar System as Earth, Mars, the Outer Planets Alliance, or everyone’s favorite mega-corp, Protogen.  Come June (and go $50), The Expanse can be spread out on every fan’s gaming table in addition to being on their televisions and computer monitors.

An elephant or a Beamer never forgets

At least none of the herd was named She-Sells-Seashells

At least none of the herd was named She-Sells-Seashells

Coming off a week of 60-degree days mingled with 8-10″ of snow, the Beamers traversed a strange and sometimes dangerous terrain to reach their Safe Place (Panera’s), where they would sing 175 verses of praise or criticism (OK, more of the latter than the former) to Barbara Gowdy’s character study of elephants in Central Africa, The White Bone.  Where would their wanderings in search of this mythic compass take them?

[Update: Conservation biologist Sam Wasser, Univ. of Washington, is using DNA from elephant dung to help locate poaching “hot spots”, which continue to be a problem as illegal ivory prices hit $1,000/lb. and herds are still being massacred.]

Continue reading

To see the worlds in a pane of glass

Chinese artist/designer/architect Jian Guo, who works primarily with sf/fantasy subjects, has been working on a series of prints of the not-too-mundane bodies of the Solar System.  Using a flat, tessellated style that resembles the pieces of stained glass used in decorative and sacred architecture, the portraits of Sun, planets, and associated friends (the Moon, the heart-struck dwarf Pluto) are surrounded by astronaut and spacecraft figures, giving us some hope that the celestial spheres will not always be alone in their revolutions.


Matilda Visits Every Monday, Just Stays Until Noon, Period.


The ‘Blue Marble’ that we call home.


The co-planet, Luna, aka “the Moon”


Mars, the bringing of much Science Fiction

Mr. Guo’s sf/f art and the opportunity to purchase prints of his illustrations can be found on his Deviant Art pages.

Hail to the Chief (reader?)

In an interview with NY Times lead book critic Michiko Kakutani, President Obama discusses the books that he read while serving as Leader of the Free World.  One series that helped him gain perspective on his political troubles was Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past (known best by its first novel, The Three-Body Problem):

It wasn’t so much sort of character studies as it was just this sweeping –

Kakutani: It’s really about the fate of the universe.

Exactly.  The scope of it was immense.  So that was fun to read, partly because my day-to-day problems with Congress seem fairly petty – not something to worry about. The aliens are about to invade! [Laughter].

If he doesn't like Panera's, I am sure we could move the Beamer meeting elsewhere.

If he doesn’t like Panera’s, I am sure we could move the Beamer meeting elsewhere. Photo credit: Doug Mills/NY Times

Mr. Obama further reveals that he is pen-pals with novelist Marilynne Robinson (best known for her spiritual generational novel, Gilead).  And his most recently finished novel was Colson Whitehead’s Civil War fantasy, The Underground Railroad.

Given his reading preferences, I would certainly invite Mr. Obama to a Beamers meeting.  Maybe if we can get the Whitehead novel on the schedule and Mr. Obama is in the area …

Nor any drop to drink 

It slices, it dices, it cuts through red tape ...

It slices, it dices, it cuts through red tape …

At the start of a new year, the Beamers turned resolutely toward the Future.  Not a cheery Future, alas, but a realistic one of wars over water rights, right here in the US.  Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife depicts the struggles to survive in a drying Southwest, where states launch military raids to prevent other states from getting a drop to drink, and refugees mass at borders, desperate to migrate away from the perpetual deserts that used to be Texas and New Mexico.  But, would the Beamers be willing to accept any of them?  Continue reading

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